Local to get feet wet in Colorado River cleanup
After nearly a month of waiting, the cleanup of furniture and boxes littering the Colorado River in Glenwood Canyon will begin soon.
Ben Cartwright, co-owner of locally-based Environmentally Friendly Services, said his company will start picking up the debris either Friday or Monday. He isn’t sure how long it will take, because the debris could have spread as far downstream as New Castle.
“We can clean it up, and even if we have to wait for the money, I’m comfortable with that,” Cartwright said at a multi-jurisdictional meeting on the cleanup effort held Thursday.
Judging from what he’s seen of the debris on the river’s edge, Cartwright said he plans to pick much of the litter up by hand, then use ropes, truck winches and heavier equipment if necessary to get the larger pieces.
The question of who pays for the cleanup, estimated at $6,000 to $8,000, still hasn’t been resolved, but Cartwright said he’s not worried.
“We just have to do it and start turning in bills,” Cartwright said. “I’ve been doing this for seven years, and I’ve never not been paid.”
Even with representatives from the Garfield County Sheriff’s Office, the Colorado State Patrol, the U.S. Forest Serviceand the Bureau of Land Management present at the meeting, the issue of jurisdiction and ultimate responsibility was foggy.
The debris that’s now strewn down at least two miles of the Colorado River came out of a Bowtie Express tractor-trailer that crashed on Interstate 70 near Grizzly Creek on Oct. 6. It flipped over the guardrail, killing the driver.
One major problem in figuring out which agency is responsible for enforcing the cleanup is that the crash happened at a crossroads of federal, state and county lands.
First, the truck crashed on I-70 – Colorado State Patrol jurisdiction. When it flipped over the guardrail and landed on the Glenwood Canyon bicycle trail, it fell into the White River National Forest – federal land. As the debris from the truck floated downriver, it left forest land.
Even law enforcement officials are not sure if that part of the river is the responsibility of Garfield County or the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.
“If there’s a state law mandating that (Bowtie Express) clean it up, I think that would be the best way,” said Steve Sherwood, assistant supervisor of the White River National Forest. The Forest Service, Sherwood said, can only fine the company up to $150, so he was hoping a state law would have more teeth.
Garfield County Sheriff Tom Dalessandri suggested the Forest Service could fine the Denver trucking company and seek an order from a federal magistrate to pay for the cleanup. If the company fails to do so, Bowtie Express could be held in contempt of court, he said.
Complicating matters further, many laws that deal with litter and cleanup are based on intentional acts.
“I don’t think we have a blatant disregard, I think we have a company that wasn’t ready for this,” Dalessandri said.
Dalessandri said the perception that the mess is more nuisance trash than hazardous waste has slowed cleanup efforts even more.
When all is said and done, these legal strategies may not be necessary. Both Cartwright and tow truck driver Kevin Ward, who spent four days cleaning up the initial mess, said they expect Bowtie Express to pay them.
“If you’re ready to go, go,” Dalessandri said. “Then if you have trouble getting payment, we could put some pressure on to get you paid.”
Dalessandri said his biggest concern is getting the junk out before the river starts to freeze.
The sheriff said he will request a Search and Rescue crew to provide a safety backup while Cartwright works on the cleanup.
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